31 October 2012

10 Minute Peanut Brittle

i didn't  really use a hammer, but it does look pretty cool.

My friend Sarah has been asking me to write a blog post about peanut brittle for a while now.  I have been saving it, though, since I like to make it for the holidays.  It was also peanut brittle that gave the me idea for this series of quick and easy treats.  Thanks, Sarah.  I always make my peanut brittle in the microwave.  Just like the fudge recipes I posted on Monday, this requires only 2 dishes and about 10 minutes of your time.  It sets up faster than the fudge, too, so it's practically instant gratification.
I used honey roasted peanuts to make this brittle, which added an extra hint of flavor to the brittle.  You can use any nut you would like -- peanuts, pecans, pistachios, etc....  You can also use salted or unsalted, roasted or unroasted.  It's sort of fun figuring out the combination you like the best.  If you use honey roasted or any other type of nut with any sugar added to it, add them after the second 4 minute round of microwaving or they might burn.  Otherwise, this recipe is pretty darn foolproof.

29 October 2012

Super Super Easy Fudge Two Ways

Every year I give goody boxes.  I don't give them to everyone, but I do give them to everyone I love.  I change up what goes into them and customize them to each person -- my boss gets extra pralines, my friend Sue gets toffee, my friend Sarah gets something with Earl Grey Tea....You get the idea.  I am still making those boxes this year, so I decided to incorporate the process into the blog.

My idea for this year is to make all sorts of candies you can whip up in no time.  I decided to start with Homemade Fudge.  Most people think of fudge as being difficult to make.  It usually requires time standing over a stove and studying a candy thermometer.  Also you have to know when to stir and when not to stir if you want to end up with the ideal dreamy, creamy texture.

yea! it's fudge!
Well guess what?....Both of these fudge recipes require almost no stirring, no candy thermometer, 2 dishes (a bowl and a baking dish), and a microwave.  They both come together in less than 10 minutes.  Then you throw 'em in the fridge and let them set up.  You get the rich flavor and the super creamy texture with very, very little effort.  You can also wrap the fudge up and freeze it until time to give out those goody boxes.  That is, if you can keep from eating it all before you get it in the freezer. You gotta love all that.

26 October 2012

Yankee Sweet Potato Cookies

Everything big Thanksgiving dinner I went to as a kid had two different kinds of sweet potato casserole.  There was the Southern one -- that would be mashed sweet potatoes topped with a mixture of brown sugar and pecans.  Then there was the other one -- the so called Yankee Sweet Potatoes that came topped with marshmallows.  The marshmallow topping always appealed to me as a kid.  What kid doesn't love marshmallows?  

I don't know about you, but I am getting tired of seeing nothing but pumpkin recipes all over the place. Not to be a hypocrite, since I posted a pumpkin recipe last week, but it's all just getting to be a bit of overkill.  Especially with a month to go until Thanksgiving.  The big problem with me being sick of it all is that I truly, dearly love the flavors of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Those flavors are Fall for me.  I had to come up with some sort of clever solution, so I came up with these cookies.  Yankee Sweet Potato Casserole made into a cookie.  They're chock full of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  They also have an ooey-gooey marshmallow on top, which makes for one fancy looking cookie with almost no additional time or effort.  I can't think of anything better than that.

25 October 2012

Bruleed Lemon Cake Bread Pudding

Yea!  It's a bonus post!  I only had enough frosting for a 2 layer cake earlier this week, but the recipe made 3 layers.  So, I had a leftover layer of cake.  What to do, what to do?  Make Bread Pudding.  That's what to do!  I'm not even gonna fool around and try to make you think that there is anything even remotely nutrionally redeeming about this bread pudding.  It's almost horrifically bad for you.  It's all butter, cream, and sugar.  But it sure is tasty.
cake soaking up the custard

Bread pudding is a real southern classic.  It's a great way to use stale bread and turn it into something delicious.  I had some almost stale cake, so I figured that switch had to be a win-win situation.  I was pretty darn right if I do say so myself.  This cake has a nice density, so it made a really good bread substitute.  This turned out a lot like a traditional bread pudding texture-wise, but with a little more sweetness.  It's also nice and lemony, which is most decidedly not traditional for bread pudding, but is a really lovely twist.

pre-caramelized pudding about to get broiled

Traditional bread puddings are served with a hard sauce, which is a sauce made from butter, sugar, and some sort of liquor.  Most recipes call for rum, bourbon, or whiskey.  Since this dessert was already made from cake soaked in custard, I decided to leave out the sauce.  Instead, I sprinkled the top of the cooked pudding with some coarse raw sugar and put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.  The broiler melted and caramelized the sugar, turning it into a crispy, crunchy crust on top.  I think the texture contrast is a step in the right direction, since I think so many bread puddings are too heavy and soggy to be drenched in sauce.

24 October 2012

Best Ever Super-Lemony Cake with Lemon Marshmallow Frosting

I got the big surprise this week of being given a huge bag of lemons.  I had to come up with something to do with them, hence the birth of this cake.  I must admit, unlike almost everyone else I know, lemon is not my favorite flavor.  I'll take chocolate or caramel instead any day.  If I am going to make something lemon (which I actually do quite often since everyone else I know loves it), then it has to be really, really, really lemony.  I don't believe in doing any flavor halfway.  This cake is definitely a prime example of this.  I almost called it So Lemony I Must Be Insane Cake, but I changed my mind just as I was starting to type this.

The frosting is also super easy.  It's made with a jar of Marshmallow Creme, which adds some lightness without having to add tons of sugar and butter.  So, it's actually a little bit healthier than your standard buttercream frosting.  It's also pretty soft and runny until you put it in the refrigerator for a just a little while.  Whip up the frosting while your cake is in the oven and stick it in the fridge until the cake is cool enough to frost.  

This cake recipe actually makes three 8" cakes.  I only made enough frosting for a two layer cake, which was mostly because I ran out of powdered sugar, but I decided to put the third layer to good use.  I'm gonna give you a bonus post tomorrow to let you in on how I decided to use that extra cake layer.  If you want to make a three layer cake, just double the frosting recipe.  You'll have enough to add that third layer and frost the sides, too.  You might wanna make a big batch just so you can have it on toast or eat it with a spoon.  It's some super light, fluffy, lemony yummy goodness.

i juiced my lemons right into the batter by squeezing over a
sieve.  the sieve catches all the seeds for me.

22 October 2012

Caramel Apple Milky Way Mini Pies

So, these aren't really pies.  They're a Southern dessert/cookie called a tassie.  Tassies are essentially tiny pies, but they don't require as much work or mess as a full size pie.  Plus, they're bite size.  That alone qualifies them as more awesome than a regular size pie.  Some die-hard Southerners would yell at me because many traditionalists believe that tassies only come in a pecan variety.  I beg to differ, but we can call 'em mini pies if that'll make everybody happy.

The filling for these guys came from a bag of Caramel Apple Milky Way minis that I found with the Halloween candy.  These are good enough that I may have to go back to the store and stock up.  I'm definitely going to want to make these after Halloween is over.  The filling of these is a traditional tassie filling all the way, but I substituted chopped candy bars for the chopped pecans.

These pies are made in miniature muffin tins.  You press dough into the bottom and up the sides of each little tin to make the crust, then fill, and bake.  It takes a little time to press the dough into each little cup, but about the same time and a lot less mess than rolling out a pie crust.  Plus, did I mention they're bite size?

19 October 2012

Magic Pumpkin Custard Pie

My mom was talking to an old friend the other day about my blog and he mentioned a pie kinda like this one to her.  He said he and his grandmother used to make it together completely from scratch.  Their pie had a crust, though.  He helped make the crust.  I thought about how wonderful it would be, though, to have a pumpkin pie, but not have to fuss with the time or effort of a crust.  This pie is also a little bit better for you since it's missing all that butter from the crust.  The filling is a lot like a traditional pumpkin pie, but about a hundred times lighter and airier.  It's like pumpkin mousse and pumpkin pie had a baby.

my favorite pie/tart dish
This does take a little effort since you have to whip the egg whites separately and then fold them into your pumpkin mixture.  If you hesitate making anything that has this step, please don't be intimidated.  You don't have to treat the egg whites like they are made of glass.  Just keep folding the mixture with your spatula going down the center to the bottom of the bowl, then bringing it up the side of the bowl to the top.  Keep rotating your bowl to get it evenly mixed.  Most importantly, though, is to take your time.  Don't get in a hurry.  There is not limit to the number of times you can fold it.  If you take your time, you are almost guaranteed to fold those egg whites in properly.

There is another pie I make called a Miracle Pie, which is like a coconut pie, and it magically makes its own crust.  This pie does the same thing, as you end up with a layer on the bottom that is remarkably crust-like.  It makes serving it up really nifty and cuts the hands on time for this pie down to about 15 minutes.  It's magical.

Magic Pumpkin Custard Pie
Makes a 9" pie or tart

Print me, Please!!!

the mixture before the milk and egg whites were added
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
4 tsp all purpose flour
2 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 c milk

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, flour, egg yolks, salt, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and milk.  Beat well until thoroughly combined.  Be careful -- the mixture will be pretty liquidy, so it can slosh out of the bowl.  In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites just until stiff peaks form (this means that when you lift the beater(s) out of the egg whites, they will stand at a peak without drooping).  Fold the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour the mixture into a lightly greased 9" pie plate or tart pan (without a removable bottom).  Bake for 10 minutes; lower the oven temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 30-40 minutes, or until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

Serve with sweetened whipped cream and sprinkled with a little extra cinnamon.

17 October 2012

The Kitchen Laboratory (Insert Evil Scientist Laugh Here)

I used to have one of the ugliest kitchens in the world.  Seriously.  This corner used to be completely empty. The walls and ceiling were a horrible mud-brown color.  It was like working in a basement.  It also had tile countertops.  The countertops ensured that I couldn't roll out a proper pie crust.  The grout lines also made it nearly impossible to clean, especially since those countertops were installed in 1955 (when the house was built).  So, basically, my kitchen was horribly dark, almost non-functional, and caked with 50+ years of cooking funk.  

At the beginning of this year, my husband and I decided to gut the kitchen and remodel it all ourselves.  We managed to do everything ourselves and did the whole thing for just over $1000 thanks to the fact that we did it all on our own and got some really good deals in the process.  We refinished the existing cabinets and added new hardware.  We pulled up 4 layers of linoleum and put down new hardwoods.  We put in a new sink, faucet, and backsplash.  It was all an adventure, especially since we had never done any of these things before.

Since my back is still acting up on me, I thought I would tell you about my favorite part of my new kitchen -- my "baking laboratory", as I call it.  That's a picture of it at the top.  I have shelves with all my canisters with baking essentials.  The cabinet underneath houses all my baking pans and dishes.  The cabinet up top is where all the not so pretty things go, like bottles of corn syrup, cane syrup, molasses, cookie crumbs, etc.  
Here's a rundown of the things I always keep in my pantry.  Just in case you ever wanted to know.  Maybe there's something in there you never knew you needed, or maybe just hadn't realized how often you use it....I specify brands if I really have a preference for any one in particular.

15 October 2012

Beer Cheese Bread, a.k.a. Packers Bread

If you know me, then you know I am a HUGE Green Bay Packers fan.  My favorite thing about the fact that I don't work on Sundays is that work no longer interferes with my ability to watch the Packers play.  My boys and I wear team colors on game days.  My boys both learned how to say both "Go Pack Go" and "Touchdown Packers" as soon as they could talk. You get the idea....

I'm definitely still not up to full speed since my car wreck, so I have been brainstorming pretty hard to come up with recipes that don't require a lot of time standing in the kitchen.  My back is still not up to it, especially after working all week.  So, I came up with the idea for this bread with the idea that it would be nice and easy along with the fact that we could do something with it for dinner during the Packers game.

This bread is really easy.  My five year old actually made this bread from start to finish except for opening the beer, melting the butter, and taking the bread in and out of the oven.  It's pretty much a mix and pour operation.  The best thing about this is that the yeast in the beer does some work on the dough to make this resemble and actual yeast bread in both taste and texture.  It's an awesome thing and so much less trouble than spending the day letting dough rise.  I used my favorite beer in the world to make this, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, but you could use any beer.  I would recommend using a dark beer, though, so you end up with some of those subtle molasses flavors you don't get from lighter beers.

Without the cheese, herbs, and garlic, this could easily move into dessert territory.  You could make it with cinnamon and raisins.  It would be super-delicious.

12 October 2012

Fruit Cocktail Cake

I had a request from a reader to post a recipe for a Fruit Cocktail Cake. I tried to do a little research on the history of the recipe and couldn't find anything, other than the fact that it is also sometimes called an Ugly Duckling Cake.  I have no clue where that name came from since this cake is actually quite lovely in appearance.  I suspect that this cake, like so many others, came from a housewife who didn't have fresh fruit in the pantry and used what she had on hand.  If I'm right about that, then we should all thank her for her efforts.

I know you're thinking that there is no way that fruit cocktail could make anything that tastes even remotely palatable.  Fruit cocktail is notoriously mushy and pretty darn tasteless.  I'm not sure that it really has anything positive to spotlight.  It sure does make a spectacular cake, though.  You actually would be hard pressed to locate more than a nugget or two of discernible fruit in this cake once it's baked.  The fruit cocktail dissolves into the batter, adding a little sweetness and a whole lot of moist-ness.  This is one of the richest, most delicate, and moist-crumbed cakes I have ever had the pleasure of making or tasting.

I thought I would go in a different direction and try out my favorite broiled frosting on this cake.  A broiled frosting is almost the pinnacle of simplicity.  You mix the stuff together, spread it over the hot cake, and stick it under the broiler for a few minutes.  It transforms into a nice, crunchy layer of coconut and brown sugar yumminess on top of the cake.

pre-broiled icing mixture

10 October 2012

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Muffins

My five year old is semi-obsessed with muffins.  He wants to eat muffins for breakfast everyday.  He is a very, very picky eater, though, so I wanted to come up with something other than chocolate chip muffins that he might be willing to eat.  I figured that if I could make a muffin taste like an oatmeal raisin cookie I would be on the right track.  I was wrong.  He immediately turned his nose up at the notion of raisins in his muffins.  These muffins, however, are oh-so right if you're a fan of oatmeal raisin cookies.  My husband, the two year old, and I lost count of how many we ate.

These muffins are almost good for you.  They contain no butter or oil.  You might want to bookmark this recipe, because that may never happen again.  I do love butter.  Since my objective was to make something at least marginally healthier than chocolate chip muffins, I actually went out of my way to pump up the flavor and moisture to these without adding tons of fat.

I did go a little overboard with the raisins, so feel free to add less if you would like.  I really did want these to mimic cookies, so I wanted some raisin in every bite.  I also added a little sprinkle of muscovado sugar to the tops so that you got a little crunch when you bite into them, too.  I tried to think of everything.  I think I succeeded and hopefully you will think so, too.

08 October 2012

Salted Chocolate Butterscotch Pie

This may be my favorite thing I have ever made.  If it's not, it is very, very close to the top of the list.  When I am eating each dreamy, creamy bite I forget about every single dessert that came before this pie.  It has my three favorite flavors all rolled into each slice -- chocolate, butterscotch, and almond.  It's my idea of heaven since it's sweet, salty, rich, light, crunchy, and positively delicious.

Butterscotch can tend to scare people away.  This is not the butterscotch you get out of a package from the grocery store.  It's not that unnatural orange color, but the dreamiest shade of extraordinarily pale caramel.
A little fact you may not know:  Butterscotch does not actually contain scotch whiskey and that is not where the name comes from.  The name comes for a technique called "scotching", which is how the candy was cut into bite size pieces.

The chocolate layer is most akin to a truffle.  It uses a Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt candy bar.  The recipe calls for a little more chocolate than you have in the candy bar also, so you can use a little more chocolate from a second bar or just add some more dark or bittersweet chocolate.  The rich, bitterness of the chocolate is a great counterpart to the sweet, lightness of the butterscotch layer.

I made the crust with some almond shortbread cookies I found around town.  If you can't find almond cookies, you could use vanilla wafers, chocolate cookies, or graham crackers.  You can add a 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract if you want that flavor in the crust.  You can also make this a completely no bake pie by using a pre-made crumb crust.

05 October 2012

Chock Full of Fruit Monkey Bread

Now that I have made friends with yeast, I am a little addicted.  I want to make everything with yeast in it.  I am having to rein myself in.  One plus side of yeast-risen goods is that, although they are time consuming, many of them don't require much hands-on time.  That is an important factor right now, since my kitchen time is still limited due to my back injury.

My stepdad is a freak for anything resembling a breakfast roll, cinnamon roll, sticky bun, etc....His major criticism is if said breakfast breads do not have any nuts or raisins.  I tend to stick with nuts since my co-workers are often my taste testers and one of them is vehemently anti-raisin.  I on the other hand love raisins with a passion, so I made this bread with myself, my stepdad, and my co-worker all in mind.  Since I didn't actually mix the raisins into the dough, so could pick them out, but there were still tons of them for those of us who are in the pro-raisin camp.

The stuff is super easy.  Because it's monkey bread, there is no rolling involved and I let my mixer do all the kneading for me.  I just pinched off little balls of dough, rolled 'em in cinnamon sugar, and dropped em in the dish.  I sprinkled on a good layer of fruit between each layer of dough to make sure there was some in every layer and stuck to every dough ball.  I also used dried fruit, so there was no endless chopping either.

The glaze I made turned out to be a weird color -- sort of an unnatural ochre-yellow.  You could use something else, but the color was such a fall color I decided it was perfect and went with it anyway.

Oh, and by the way, I sent about a fourth of the monkey bread home with my stepdad in a big baggie.  He ate almost the whole thing in one sitting.  He didn't even take it out of the bag.  He wholeheartedly approved.

03 October 2012

A New Recipe, Just Not on My Blog

Guess what?  I'm a guest blogger now!  The nice ladies at Eggshells Kitchen Company here in Little Rock offered me a spot as a guest blogger.  There's a new scrumptious recipe and lots of pictures on their website.
You can read it by clicking here.  The recipe is for Tomato Soup Cake with Cream Cheese Filling and Spiced Caramel Drizzle.  It's so crazy yummy.  While you're at it, check out their website.  They have so much awesome stuff and you couldn't ask for better folks to equip your kitchen.

01 October 2012

Ten Useful Tips, Random Facts, and a Recipe....

Since I hurt my back in the car accident, I haven't really felt up to very much standing in the kitchen even though it's about my favorite thing to do.  I wanted to get something new up on the blog, though, so I thought I would  post some of my favorite kitchen hints and tips.  You may know them and you may not, but hopefully everyone will find something useful.

1.  Recipes always call for large eggs, even if they don't specify.  Eggs are one case where bigger isn't necessarily better -- the wrong size egg will totally screw up the balance of your recipe.

2.  To keep your pie crust from shrinking, do the following:  roll out the crust and put it in your pan, put the pan and crust in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before you bake it or fill it.  The dough shrinks because the gluten hasn't rested properly.  Gluten works hard and needs its rest.

3.  If you don't have buttermilk for a recipe (which I never do), get out a 1 cup measuring cup.  Pour in 1 Tbsp lemon juice and fill the cup the rest of the way with regular milk.  Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before you use it.  You won't be able to tell the difference.

4.  You can make a pie crust out of almost any cookie or cracker.  Just grind up the cookies or crackers in a blender or food processor until you have 2 cups of crumbs.  Mix those crumbs with 3-4 Tbsp melted butter and 2-3 Tbsp sugar (for a sweet crust).  Adjust the melted butter as needed to get the crumbs to hold together when you press on them.  Voila!  Pie crust!  You can make flavored crusts in chocolate, almond, lemon, pretzel, Ritz cracker, nutter butter, animal cracker, etc.  Let your imagination run wild.

5.  What is Cream of Tartar?  I went into a Penzey's spices store and asked this very question once.  The very nice lady went into an explanation of what you use it for.  I already knew that, but I wanted to know where it comes from.  It turns out that Cream of Tartar is really potassium hydrogen tartrate and it is a sediment scraped from the insides of wine casks.  I think that's just pretty cool to know.

6.  Confession time....I don't sift.  I never have and I never will.  At least when it comes to dry ingredients for cakes, cookies, pies, etc.  I just stir the dry ingredients together really quickly with a fork or a whisk.  I break up clumps if there are any then let it fly.  Sometimes I don't even get that second bowl dirty and I add all the dry ingredients without the flour, followed very quickly by the flour, and keeping mixing to a minimum. I have never been able to tell any real difference.  Just keep it quick and keep your mixer going VERY slowly.

7.  Sugar is not a dry ingredient.  I always wondered, since sugar is obviously not wet.  It is considered a wet ingredient because it becomes liquid when it's cooked.  I think it's the only exception to the wet/dry rule.

8.  There are two kitchen tools that have really, truly changed my life -- my kitchen aid mixer (which I love so much I have it tattooed on my leg) and my Microplane zester.  I have no idea how I ever made anything without them.  I still own a handheld mixer, but I haven't used it in years and don't have any idea where it even is.  Microplane gadgets are made right here in Arkansas and they are the greatest thing you could have in your kitchen that costs less than $20.  My Microplane can thoroughly zest a lemon in about 10 seconds flat.  I am currently contemplating my next Microplane purchase.  Do I need to grate cheeses or apples more?

9.  Here's the easiest pie you will ever make:  Buy or make a graham cracker pie crust.  Mix together 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1 container of Cool Whip, and a packet of Kool Aid.  Pour into the pie crust.  Chill for 30 minutes.  It's Kool Aid Pie!  You can use lemonade for lemon icebox flavor, lemon lime for key lime pie, strawberry for strawberry cream pie.  You can be extra fancy and add fresh fruit, too.  I like to make mine with lemon-lime Kool Aid and a small can of drained mandarin oranges.  It's tastes like that fluffy jello-marshmallow stuff they served at church picnics and potlucks when I was a kid.

10.  Baking is all about precision when it comes to flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, eggs, cocoa powder, and spices.  You can be a little more freehand with other things like extracts and flavorings and adjust them to your taste.  Since baking is all about precision with some things please go out and buy good, utilitarian measuring cups and spoons.  Oh, and be sure your spoons will fit into spice jars.  It's something you don't think about until they won't fit.  I learned this the hard way.  I know they have really cute ones at places like Anthropologie that look really nice on your counter, but you can't count on their precision.  Let those be decoration if you must buy them, but use the not so pretty ones for accuracy when you need it.


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